(Abby and her parents Rick and Lindsay are part of my church family and an inspiration to me.)
I’ll never forget the grin on Lindsay’s face when she showed me the video of Abby walking on her own in physical therapy. I’ve only known Abbs for a little over 2 years now, but most of that time I’ve only really seen her get along in her walker or holding on to someone’s hand. I know seeing her walk for me as her pastor was such a great moment, but I know my feeling doesn’t even compare to how Lyndsay and Rick felt and all of the family and church family felt seeing it for themselves. It wasn’t that long ago really, but it’s funny how now I’ve come to just expect Abby to walk into her favorite place, the church building and be with her God and her church family. Walking on her own, confidently and consistently, was a moment of growth for her, a hill for her to take, but she didn’t do it alone, she has I can’t even count number of people rooting and praying for her.
Does our Christian faith have it’s own challenges as well, hills worth taking or are we just along for the ride? How do we understand how to live out our Christian life? I’ve noticed that often times there are two prevalent ways of approaching the Christian faith. One is the lazy river approach. Get in the inner tube, assume whatever stream your on is taking you in the right direction and don’t think too much about it again until a log or rock, blocks your way, an illness or death occurs, then start thinking about it again until you get past the obstacle and it becomes easier to just flow along again. What happens here, is quite simply, you don’t know where your going, letting life and chance just take you away until you look around one day and realize instead of being on the narrow stream that brings you to the Lord you are on strange and dangerous currents that lead you far from home and far from life in the Lord.
The other extreme is the stairway to heaven approach. The Christian life is super hard work climbing to meet Jesus and earn heaven. Of course, what happens when you try to climb a ladder that goes so high you can never get to the top, you burn out, lose faith, say forget this whole thing. Start strong and then peter out. That’s because heaven was never meant to be something that could be earned, no matter how hard we try.
Gotta be a better way right, one that honors the journey and the walk lived but one that recognizes that it is only God that brings us through. Maybe we can call it the Abby Way. I have to tell you how much it brightens my day, when Abby is able to be in church. She has the biggest smile on her face and Lindsay always tells me that this is her favorite place; she could be having a rough weekend until she comes here and it changes her whole attitude around. Maybe the best way to describe it is joy, her joy in the Lord’s presence.
That joy reminds me of why we are here and why we travel with the Lord. The Lord has given us everything when we had nothing. God has given to us hope when it seems like death is the last and only word. God has given us identity and worth in this life that can never be taken away. God has given us peace in the words of forgiveness and purpose to bring that same peace in the lives of the people around us. Being in the Lord’s presence, hearing His word, receiving His body and blood, it’s never been about something I get around to and it’s never been about something I have to, it’s about joy and love and peace and being in the places where all those gifts are freely given.
The road we travel with the Lord begins with Joy and that joy sustains and encourages us to keep on moving ahead. But we will run into hills again and again on this road, it will not be smooth sailing like the lazy river that can drop us off in strange places when we aren’t paying attention nor will it be a impossible ladder to heaven though sometimes it can feel like a hill that is too high to deal with.
Think of those hills where your spiritual muster is tested, hills that may have surprised you and challenged your idea of what the Christian life is like. Here are some examples:
-think of a person in your life that is consistently wearing you down, Pastor Paul would call this a thorn in your flesh that you just can’t get out. These individuals challenge our faith life, can even let us lose our joy if we lose our focus on what’s important.
-Often times it is a loss that that becomes a hill in our path, a death of a loved one, often but many times a death of a career or a dream, when life changes or when we are challenged to let go of a sinful habit.
-Many times the hills are a good thing, a deeper walk with the Lord, a stronger desire for prayer, a sense of calling and urgency.
All of these are hills in our path testing our spiritual maturity and muster. The disciples ran into their own hill in our Gospel reading today (Mark 9:14-29), when they came up against a spiritual force that was crippling a child and the disciples were defeated by it. When they asked what had happened, Jesus only replies this demon can only be brought out by prayer. A strange response we think until we remember, what is prayer all about but relying upon God to walk us through and not relying on our own strength. The disciples simply couldn’t do it because they were relying on their own strength and the same is true for the hills that are in our path as well.
When faced with the two extreme choices of giving up or trying really hard on my own power and failing, there is a better way and Abby is our inspiration for this, but not only Abby but all of her family, friends and church family that love her so much. Abby has never travelled the road alone and she has never faced the hills in her life alone either. How many people love, care, support, encourage, pray, and walk with Abby is a testament to the love of God working in and through all of them. For Abby, walking on her own was not something that happened alone either, but through what I would call her “great cloud of witnesses” walking with her, behind her and alongside her.
This Christian life you lead won’t ever be a lazy river but it won’t be an insurmountable ladder to climb either, instead it is a journey of hills, each leading to greater maturity and strength in our faith, to a greater ability to walk strong and well. But you never take these hills alone. That is the one thing that the lazy river and the ladder to heaven have in common, they are both about me doing it alone, that’s not the Christian life, instead it is about taking those hills together. Going to worship is about receiving the Lord’s Gifts together as a community, as a family, as a body that functions together. Bible study, Christian education is about the great cloud of witnesses, who left these inspired words for you, to show you Jesus in their lives so you can see Jesus in your life. Having fun together, eating together, watching movies together, it’s all relaxing a little bit before we have to deal with the next challenge ahead. It’s about learning more and more about the God who loves you and never leaves you alone at the base of the hill but walks with you each step of the way.
Following the Abby way, we take these hills together, God and us together. Amen.